Basement Bhangra, the longest running monthly party in New York, and the high-profile club night dedicated to South Asian music, ended its 20-year run last month.
Launched by Indian American DJ Rekha Malhotra, aka DJ Rekha, in 1997, the dance party mixed South Asian bhangra music with hip-hop, dancehall and electronic sounds to create a New York City dance experience.
The final show, held Aug. 6 at SummerStage in Central Park in New York, saw the presence of South Asian music celebrities like Apache Indian, Panjabi MC, rapper Heems and Anik Khan. The star-studded act was supported by DJ sets from DJ Rekha alongside longtime residents DJ Shilpa and DJ Petra.
“The other desi parties were way more heterosexual, way more of a meaty, meat-market vibe,” Swati Khurana, a writer and artist, who documented the early days of the event, told the news site wync.org.
By contrast, she said Basement drew “writers, activists, artists, community organizers, teachers, people in queer circles,” and that often, “people would come in drag.”
Among the bhangra artists she championed early on was Panjabi MC. His song, “Mundian To Bach Ke,” was re-released with vocals by Jay-Z, taking bhangra from the club scene to the American mainstream.
“There is nowhere in the world,” Malhotra told wnyc.org, “where so many different kinds of South Asian art takes place on any one given night,” including, London or Mumbai. I think in New York City there’s an environment that breeds that kind of art. And that’s why in so many ways Basement Bhangra could only happen here,” she said. “It’s a good place to stop, to know that that’s out there.”
Malhotra, who was the sound designer for the Tony award‐winning Broadway Show, “Bridge and Tunnel,” received a Drama Desk award nomination for her work on the play, “Rafta Rafta,” and was the associate producer for the NPR Radio Documentary, “A Feet in Two Worlds.” She has done remixes for artists that range from Meredith Monk to Priyanka Chopra, according to her bio on her website.
Malhotra has received numerous community awards and in 2009 was inducted into the New York City’s Peoples’ Hall of Fame. She has curated events for Celebrate Brooklyn, Central Park Summerstage, and has performed at the White House and internationally. She was a Grand Marshall of the 9th Annual NYC Dance Parade in 2015.
Malhotra plans to pursue other creative projects and further studies. She wrote on Facebook: “Basement Bhangra is definitely coming to an end, but I will continue to DJ and make sounds and continue my work as an artist, educator, and curator.”